ICE approved only 20,858 arrests in the six months after the Biden administration announced new rules restricting which illegal immigrants can be targeted – or an average of just one arrest every other month for each deportation officer.
It’s exponentially dropped from the Trump years, where the frequency averaged two arrests each month, and it’s even worse compared to the highest Obama years, when the ratio was about four arrests each month.
But even though the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs says they are catching fewer people overall, they are arresting more serious criminals, which ICE says is proof that the new rules work to allow officers to focus on the most valuable targets.
In the 5 months following the issuance of the new rules on 18 February, ICE registered 6,046 arrests of serious criminals, compared to 3,575 during the 2020 pandemic.
The government revealed the numbers in a lawsuit earlier this month as it tried to defend the new “priority guide” that puts auto guards on which illegal immigrants are to be arrested or deported by federal officers.
According to the rules, only illegal immigrants who are considered threats to national security, recent cross-border or serious criminals are given priority to automatic arrest and deportation.
If officers want to target someone outside of these categories, they must write a reason and get prior approval.
The ICE says from February 18 to September 16 that it approved 57 automatic national security arrests, 3,696 border cases, 9,918 cases of crime or public safety. And higher-ups also approved 7,157 requests outside the automatic priorities. The agency has around 6,000 deportation officers, although not all have been assigned tasks where they make regular arrests.
Reports early in the Biden administration had indicated that arrests were declining, and the new figures show that it was not only an early blip, but rather a lasting trend, driven by political decisions.
“These numbers are shockingly low,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “They have achieved their goal of abolishing immigration enforcement by note.”
Falling arrests are just one part of the Biden administration’s rewriting of immigration enforcement policy.
Ms. Vaughan has a forthcoming report that will show that ICE deportations are also a fraction of what they were under the Trump and Obama administrations, averaging just over 3,000 a month in the six months following inauguration day.
That would be a decrease of about 85% compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, immigration courts are also cutting illegal immigrants free at unprecedented rates, The Washington Times reported earlier this month.
ICE declined to comment on the low arrest rates, citing ongoing legal challenges to the enforcement guidance.
Among other revelations from the documents, filed in federal court in Texas, is that about 90% of non-automatic priority arrest requests are approved.
That’s a high number, and ICE officials, who were apparently concerned that they seemed too “permissive”, actually said that there is a “pre-assessment” system in place that ends up fooling unworthy people. arrest warrants before they become official requests.
ICE also revealed that the “typical” official request takes an hour and nine minutes to obtain an approval. The document does not say in how many cases a target escaped due to this delay.
Although not specifically related to the arrest numbers, the ICE document says in about one in five cases where a migrant requested to be released from custody or have an expulsion detained and a field office denied that the seniors in Washington intervened to override the field office and order the gentle treatment.
Amanda Keaveny, a member of the board of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the arrest figures show that ICE is making progress toward President Biden’s goal of pooling resources against only a small segment of the unauthorized population.
“I am convinced that this is an appropriate approach,” she said.
She said it cuts back on heartbreaking cases of migrants who have been picked up and deported, leaving a spouse and children, with less criminal records, or in some cases none at all, and only their illegal presence as a cause of expulsion.
She said immigration laws already prioritize the enforcement of serious criminals, and if the Biden team’s guidance results in an increase in those arrests, then things work.
“If you want to focus on who has previously been considered by Congress as the people who should be removed, then I definitely think it meets those goals,” Ms. Keaveny.
ICE had an average of about 31 daily authorized arrests for felons from February 18 to August 31. This is a significant increase compared to the 18 arrests made in the same period in 2020, and it is even a small increase from the 27 daily arrests on average from 1 March to August. 31, 2019, where the pandemic did not affect the cases.
Ms. Vaughan said the increase does not make sense given the collapse of other enforcement.
She said ICE officers will arrest any serious criminal who encounters their radar no matter what, so the argument about focused resources does not hold water.
She said it is possible that officers are just doing a more complete job of documenting when a target has an enlarged felony.
In the past, when the felony was not a requirement to arrest anyone, agents were less likely to spend time documenting it as part of a case.
Now, she said, they can be more careful, because otherwise they would have to jump through extra hangers to make the arrest.
Some immigrant rights activists questioned why criminals should be a target anyway.
Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said there are human stories behind each of these arrests, and those with crimes have by definition already served their sentences as a regular court sentenced for their crimes.
It is cruel to their communities to be arrested for civilian immigration, she said.
“What these statistics do not reveal are the negative effects ICE’s enforcement policies have on communities by, for example, removing a family’s breadwinner, taking one or both parents away from a child in their reproductive years, or deporting community leaders,” she said. “These negative influences have been shown to destabilize families and communities for generations to come.”
The guidance on 18 February was in force until 30 September, when the Minister of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, issued new final rules adjusting the guidance.